What Trypho Said (Justin Martyr)

Here I reconstruct and recommend the figure of Trypho, how he and Justin Martyr met purportedly during the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, what Justin Martyr allowed him to say in Dialogue with Trypho, and how they part ways on what are arguably friendly terms.


[[JUSTIN: Early one morning as I was walking along the colonnades of the gymnasium, a man, accompanied by some friends, came up to me and said, “Good morning, Philosopher.” Whereupon, he and his friends walked along beside me. After returning his greeting, I asked, “What is the matter? Is there anything special you wish of me?”]]

He answered, “In Argos I was taught by Corinthus, the Socratic philosopher, never to slight or ignore those who wear that gown of yours, but to show them every consideration and to converse with them, since from such a conversation some good might be derived by them or myself. It would be to the advantage of both if either should benefit from this meeting. Accordingly, whenever I see anyone wearing such a gown, I gladly accost him. So, for this same reason, it has been a pleasure to greet you. These friends of mine share my hope of hearing something profitable from you. He did not hesitate to tell me his name and background.

“Trypho,” he said, “is my name. I am a Hebrew of the circumcision, a refugee from the recent war, and at present a resident of Greece, mostly in Corinth.”

[[JUSTIN: “How,” I asked, “can you gain as much from philosophy as from your own lawgiver and prophets?” “Why not,” he replied, “for do not the philosophers speak always about God? Do they not constantly propose questions about his unity and providence? Is this not the task of philosophy, to inquire about the Divine?” ]]

Then, with a subdued smile, he said, “Explain to us just what is your opinion of these matters, and what is your idea of God, and what is your philosophy


[[Justin: “Thus it is that I am now a philosopher. Furthermore, it is my wish that everyone would be of the same sentiments as I, and never fall away from the Savior’s words; for they have in themselves such tremendous majesty that they can instill fear into those who have wandered from the path of righteousness, whereas they ever remain a great solace to those who heed them. Thus, if you have any regard for your own welfare and for the salvation of your soul, and if you believe in God, you may have the chance, since I know you are no stranger to this matter, of attaining a knowledge of the Christ of God, and, after becoming a Christian, of enjoying a happy life.”]]

At these words, my dearest [Pompey], Trypho’s friends began to laugh, and he himself replied, smiling:

“I commend all your other statements, and I admire your burning desire to know divine things, but it would be better for you to concentrate on the philosophy of Plato or some other philosopher, and in this way cultivate constancy, continency, and moderation, rather than be ensnared by false teachings, and become a partisan of worthless men. For, while you adhered to your former school of philosophy and lived a blameless life, there was hope of a better destiny for you, but, when you have turned away from God and have placed your hope in man, what chance of salvation do you have?

If you will listen to me (indeed I already think of you as a friend), first be circumcised, then observe the precepts concerning the Sabbath, the feasts, and God’s new moons; in brief, fulfill the whole written law, and then, probably, you will experience the mercy of God. But if the Messiah has been born and exists anywhere, he is not known, nor is he conscious of his own existence, nor has he any power until Elijah comes to anoint him and to make him manifest to all. But you [Christians] have believed this foolish rumor, and you have invented for yourselves a Christ for whom you blindly give up your lives.”

[[Justin: “My friend, I pardon you, and may the Lord forgive you, for you don’t know what you are saying; you have been instructed by teachers who are ignorant of the meaning of the Scriptures, and, raving like an oracle, you blurt out whatever comes into your mind. If you will agree to hear our account of him, how we have not been deceived by false teachings, and how we shall not cease to profess our faith in him (even though men thereby persecute us, and the most cruel tyrant tries to force us to deny him), I will prove to you, here and now, that we do not believe in groundless myths nor in teachings not based on reason, but in doctrines that are inspired by the Divine Spirit, abundant with power, and teeming with grace.”]]

Trypho’s companions once again broke out in such loud, rude, and raucous laughter that I got up and was ready to walk away. But Trypho seized me by my cloak and said he wouldn’t let me go until I had kept my promise [to defend the Christians].

[[JUSTIN: “Then, don’t let your friends,” I insisted, “cause such a commotion, or act so insultingly. If they wish, let them listen in silence, or, if they have something more important to do, let them depart; then we can go somewhere to rest and finish our conversation.”]]

Trypho consented, and we then agreed to retire to the central space within the colonnade. Two of his friends, joking and making fun of our earnestness, went their way. When we came to that part of the stadium where there were stone seats on both sides, Trypho’s other companions went to sit on the one side and after one of them had made a remark about the war waged in Judea, they spoke of it.


“This last charge is what surprises us,” replied Trypho. “Those other charges which the rabble lodge against you are not worthy of belief, for they are too repulsive to human nature. But the precepts in your so-called Gospel are so marvelous and great that I don’t think that anyone could possibly keep them. For I took the trouble to consult them.”

“But this is what we are most puzzled about, that you who claim to be pious and believe yourselves to be different from the others do not segregate yourselves from them, nor do you observe a manner of life different from that of the Gentiles, for you do not keep the feasts or Sabbaths, nor do you practice the rite of circumcision. You place your hope in a crucified man, and still expect to receive favors from God when you disregard his commandments. Have you not read that the male who is not circumcised on the eighth day shall be eliminated from his people? This precept was for stranger and purchased slave alike. But you, forthwith, scorn this covenant, spurn the commands that come afterwards, and then you try to convince us that you know God, when you fail to do those things that every God-fearing person would do. If, then, you can give a satisfactory reply to these charges and can show us on what you place your hopes, even though you refuse to observe the Law, we will listen to you most willingly, and then we can go on and examine in the same manner our other differences.”

[CHP. 19]

[[JUSTIN AT END OF CHP 18 EXPLAINED:  “If we patiently bear all the evils thrust upon us by vicious men and demons, and still, amid indescribable tortures and death, ask mercy even for our persecutors and do not wish that anybody be requited with even a little of them, as our new Lawgiver decreed, why is it, Trypho, that we should not observe those rites which cannot harm us, such as the circumcision of the flesh, the Sabbaths, and the festivals?”]]

“That,” interposed Trypho, “is precisely what we are puzzled about—why you endure all sorts of tortures, yet refuse to follow the [Jewish] customs now under discussion.”


“Do I understand you to say,” interposed Trypho, “that none of us Jews will inherit anything on the holy mountain of God?”


“Why,” objected Trypho, “do you quote only those passages from the Prophets which prove your point, and omit those quotations which clearly order the observance of the Sabbath? Isaiah, for example, speaks thus: If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own will on my holy day, and shall call the Sabbaths the holy delights of your God; if you shall not lift your foot to work, and shall not speak a word from your own mouth, and shall trust in the Lord; then he shall lift you up to the good things of the earth, and feed you with the inheritance of Jacob, your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”


Trypho then observed, “We listened attentively earlier when you put this question, and, to tell you the truth, you deserved our attention, but it does not seem good to me, as it does to most, only to say that it was God’s will. For that is always the sly stock reply of those who cannot answer the question.”


When I finished, Trypho objected, “Sir, your quotations from Scripture prove that we must look forward to that glorious and great Messiah who, as the Son of Man, receives the everlasting kingdom from the Ancient of days. But, the one whom you call Christ was without glory and honor to such an extent that he incurred the last curse of God’s law, namely, he was crucified.”


At this point, Trypho interrupted me by saying, “Indeed I know that there are many who profess their faith in Jesus and are considered to be Christians, yet they claim there is no harm in their eating meats sacrificed to idols.”


Trypho then said, “It may also be admitted that this is exactly as you say, and that the prophets predicted that Christ was to suffer, that he was to be called a Stone, that his first coming in which he was proclaimed to appear in suffering would be followed by another in glory, and that he would thenceforth be the Judge of all men, and the Eternal King and Priest. But prove to us that Jesus Christ is the one about whom these prophecies were spoken.”


“It would be better for us,” Trypho concluded, “to have obeyed our teachers, who warned us not to listen to you Christians, nor to converse with you on these subjects, for you have blasphemed many times in your attempt to convince us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke with them in the pillar of the cloud; that he became man, was crucified, and ascended into heaven, and will return again to this earth; and that he should be worshipped.”


“Don’t you realize,” interposed Trypho, “that you are out of your mind to say such things?”

[[JUSTIN: “Listen to me, you,” I retorted “and I’ll prove that I’m not out of my mind when I mention these special gifts…”]]

“Prove to us,” interrupted Trypho, “that this man who you claim was crucified and ascended into heaven is the Christ of God. It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer, and that he should come again in glory to accept the eternal kingdom over all nations, and that every kingdom should be made subject to him. But what we want you to prove is that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the Scriptures.”


Trypho then interjected, “Although you insist that your arguments must be lined up in the order predetermined by yourself, permit me to interrupt you at this point to ask a very urgent question.” “Ask me,” I replied, “whatever you please. Then, after such questions and answers have been disposed of, I will resume my discussion and try to complete it.” “Then tell me,” he went on, “whether or not those who have regulated their lives according to the Mosaic Law shall live again together with Jacob, Enoch, and Noah in the resurrection of the dead?”


“But,” inquired Trypho, “if some even now desire to live in observance of the precepts of the Mosaic Law, and yet believe that the crucified Jesus is the Christ of God and that to him it has been given to judge without exception all men, and that his kingdom is eternal, could they also be saved?”

JUSTIN: “Let us examine this together,” I replied, “and see whether anyone is able now to observe all of the Mosaic precepts.”

“No,” he answered, “for we recognize, as you said, that it is impossible to sacrifice the paschal lamb anywhere else, or to offer the goats required for the fast, or to present all the other oblations.’

JUSTIN: “Then tell me yourself,” I begged, “some of the commandments which can be observed. Then you could be convinced that, though a man has not practiced or observed your socalled eternal precepts, he can quite certainly be saved.”

“We can keep holy the Sabbath,” answered Trypho, “be circumcised, observe the months, and wash ourselves after touching something forbidden by Moses or after sexual relations.”

[CHP. 47]

“But,” Trypho again objected, “if someone knows that what you say is true, and, professing Jesus to be the Christ, believes in and obeys him, yet desires also to observe the commandments of the Mosaic Law, shall he be saved?”

[[JUSTIN: I replied, “I say such a man will be saved, unless he exerts every effort to influence other men (I have in mind the Gentiles whom Christ circumcised from all error) to practice the same rites as himself, informing them that they cannot be saved unless they do so. You yourself did this at the opening of our discussion, when you said that I would not be saved unless I kept the Mosaic precepts.”]]

“But why,” urged Trypho, “did you say, ‘In my opinion such a man will be saved?’ There must, therefore, be other Christians who hold a different opinion.”

[[JUSTIN: “Yes, Trypho,” I conceded…]]


“We have now heard your opinion on these matters,” interposed Trypho. “Resume your discourse where you left off, and bring it to an end, for it seems to me to be entirely absurd and utterly incapable of proof. Your statement that this Christ existed as God before all ages, and then that he consented to be born and become man, yet that he is not of human origin, appears to me to be not only paradoxical, but preposterous.”


“It appears to me,” said Trypho, “that they who assert that he was of human origin, and was chosen to be anointed and became the Christ, propose a doctrine much more credible than yours. We [Jews] all expect that Christ will be a man of human origin, and that Elijah will come to anoint him. If this man appears to be the Christ, he must be considered to be a man of human origin, yet, from the fact that Elijah has not yet come, I must declare that this man is not the Christ.”


And Trypho said, “You seem to me to be ready to answer any of my questions, thanks to your extensive exchange in debates with many persons on every possible topic. Tell me, then, first of all, how can you prove that there is another God besides the Creator of the world, and then show that he condescended to be born of a virgin.”


When I had finished, Trypho remarked, “All the words of the prophecy which you just quoted are ambiguous, sir, and they certainly do not prove what you want them to prove.”


“We shall keep this interpretation of yours in mind,” Trypho replied, “if you can reinforce your point with other arguments as well. But now, return to the original topic and prove to us that the prophetic Spirit ever admits the existence of another God, besides the Creator of all things; and do be careful not to mention the sun and moon, which, Scripture tells us, God permitted the Gentiles to worship as gods.1 Even prophets often misuse the word in this sense, when they say, Your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, often adding, the great and mighty and awesome. “Such words are used, not as if they were really gods, but because the word is instructing us that the true God, the Creator of all, is the sole Lord of all those who are falsely regarded as gods and lords. To convince us of this the Holy Spirit said through David, The gods of the Gentiles [although reputed as gods] are idols of demons, and not gods. And he places a curse upon those who make such idols or worship them.”

[[an argument ensues re: the identity of the angel/s who appeared to Abraham at Mamre]]

“That’s right,” said Trypho, “but you have not thereby proved that there is another God besides him who appeared to Abraham, and who appeared also to the other patriarchs and prophets. All you have shown is that we were mistaken in our assumption that the three who were in the tent with Abraham were all angels.”


 “Get on with your proof, then,” said Trypho, “for, as you see, it is getting late in the day, and we are not ready to make any unguarded replies, for we have never before heard anyone who made such inquiries, examinations, or proofs. In fact, we would not have listened to you thus far, had you not constantly cited the Scriptures in your attempts to prove your point, and had you not stated that there is no God superior to the Creator of the world.”


“It is possible,” conceded Trypho, “that your explanation of the different ways of eating would be of service concerning the statement about the mode of consumption of the food set before Abraham’s guests. So proceed, now, to prove how this God who appeared to Abraham, and ministered to the Creator of the universe, was born of a virgin, and became a man, as you claim, suffering like all others.”


“In doing so,” said Trypho, “you surely show true piety toward God, but when you say that you have no talent in the rhetorical arts. I suspect that you are just dissembling in this matter.”


Trypho replied, “We do not draw the same conclusion from the words you quoted, but think rather that it was an angel who was seen in the fiery bush, whereas it was God who talked with Moses; so that in that apparition there were really two persons together: an angel and God.”


“It has already been shown,” Trypho agreed, “that he who appeared to Abraham, and was called God and Lord, fulfilled the commission (which he received from the Lord in heaven) to punish the people of Sodom. Even if the God who appeared to Moses was accompanied by an angel, we cannot identify the God who spoke from the bush to Moses with God, the Creator of all, but with him who certainly appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who was also called and perceived to be an angel of God the Creator of the universe, because he made known to men the will of the Father and Creator.”


“My friend,” said Trypho, “you have proved your point forcibly and with many arguments. Now prove to us that he condescended to become man by a virgin, in accordance with his Father’s will, and to be crucified, and to die; show us, too, that after rising from the dead he ascended into heaven.”


“Let you who are of Gentile origin,” said Trypho, “who are all named Christians after Christ, profess him to be Lord and Christ and God, as the Scriptures signify. But we Jews, who adore the God who made him, are not obliged to confess or worship him.”


“Abashed as I am,” said Trypho, “by so many quotations from Scripture, I am at a loss how to explain that passage from Isaiah in which God states that he shares his glory with no one else, when he says: I am the Lord, God; this is my name; my glory and my powers I will not give to another.”


Then Trypho retorted, “The quotation is not, Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, but Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and so forth, as you quoted it. Furthermore, the prophecy as a whole refers to Hezekiah, and it can be shown that the events described in the prophecy were fulfilled in him.  

“Besides, in the so-called Greek myths there is a story of how Perseus was born of Danaë, while she was a virgin, when the one whom they call Zeus descended upon her in the form of a golden shower.You Christians should be ashamed of yourselves, therefore, to repeat the same kind of stories as these men, and you should, on the contrary, acknowledge this Jesus to be a man of mere human origin. If you can prove from the Scriptures that he is the Christ, confess that he was considered worthy to be chosen as such because of his perfect observance of the Law, but do not dare to speak of miracles, lest you be accused of talking nonsense, like the Greeks.”


“Yet you admitted,” rejoined Trypho, “that he was circumcised and observed the other precepts of the Mosaic Law.”


“Before you do,” interrupted Trypho, “we would like you to quote some of the passages you claim were entirely omitted [from the elders’ translation].”


“Only God knows,” remarked Trypho, “whether or not our leaders have deleted portions of the Scriptures as you say. But such an assertion seems incredible.”


“We are aware,” said Trypho, “that it is at our request that you have quoted those passages for us. But the psalm of David which you just cited seems to me to have been spoken of nobody other than the Father, who created the heavens and earth. You, however, claim that it refers to him who suffered, and who you are anxious to prove is the Christ.”


“I admit,” said Trypho, “that your arguments are so numerous and forceful that they suffice to make me confused, but I again call to your attention that I want the proof of that Scriptural passage which you have so often promised. Please go on More on the birth of Jesus now and show us how that passage refers to your Christ, and not to Hezekiah, as we Jews believe.”


Then Trypho, becoming somewhat angry, yet retaining a great reverence for the Scriptures, as was clear from his countenance, said to me, “The words of God are indeed holy, but your interpretations are not only artificial, as is evident from those you have given, but evidently even blasphemous, for you affirm that the angels have sinned and have apostatized from God.”


“Sir,” replied Trypho, “as I already remarked, you steadfastly cling to the Scriptures in all your statements. But, tell me truthfully, do you really believe that this place Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and do you actually expect that you Christians will one day congregate there to live joyfully with Christ, together with the patriarchs, the prophets, the saints of our race, or even those who became proselytes before your Christ arrived? Or did you come to this admission only so that you might seem to prevail over us in the investigations?”


“You know very well,” said Trypho, “that we Jews all look forward to the coming of the Christ, and we admit that all your Scriptural quotations refer to him. I also admit that the name Jesus [Joshua], which was given to the son of Nun, has prompted me to incline to this opinion.

“But we doubt whether the Christ should be so shamefully crucified, for the Law declares that he who is crucified is to be accursed. Consequently, you will find it very difficult to convince me on this point. It is indeed evident that the Scriptures state that Christ was to suffer, but you will have to show us, if you can, whether it was to be the form of suffering cursed by the Law.”

[CHP. 90]

“Lead us forward, then, from the Scriptures,” said Trypho, “that we too may believe you. We are indeed aware that he was to endure suffering, and to be led as a sheep to the slaughter. But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and subjected to so disgraceful and shameful a death (which even in the Law is cursed). We find it impossible to think that this could be so.”


“Do you mean to say,” asked Trypho, “that you are Israel, and that God says all this about you?”


After a brief pause, Trypho continued, “You see that it was not by any deliberate design that we began the discussion of these matters, but I confess that I have derived great pleasure from our association, and I think that they too are of a similar disposition. We have heard more than we expected and beyond what could be expected. If we could meet more frequently and continue our study of the Scriptures, we certainly would profit even more by it. But, since you are about to leave the city, and expect to set sail any day now, do not hesitate to remember us as friends when you depart.” “As regards myself,” I replied, “if I had stayed here, I would have liked to continue this discussion every day. But, since I expect to embark at once, with God’s will and help, I beg of you to put your every effort into this great struggle for your own salvation, and to embrace the Christ of almighty God in preference to your teachers.” After this they left me, wishing me a safe voyage and deliverance from every disaster. And I in turn prayed for them, saying, “I can wish you no greater blessing than this, gentlemen, that, realizing that wisdom is given to every man through this way, you also may one day come to believe entirely as we do that Jesus is the Christ of God.”

[translated by Thomas B. Falls]

[note: Justin Martyr has a lot to prove. Spanning 142 chapters, the sheer length of what is arguably a christian apologetic vis-a-vis the jews overwhelms the much shorter First Apology and Second Apology vis-a-vis Roman pagans. Even though the protagonists lose their temper with each other, Justin Martyr allows Trypho to come across as utterly reasonable. I am tagging this under “anti-Semitism” for sake of convenience, but i do not think that the anti-Judaism in the Dialogue With Trypho counts as such]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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